By Clint Brewer | May 4th, 2008
We’re journalists and we’re here to help you. Trust us.
That is essentially the line American media companies have been using since the dawn of television. Each year, however, that message is received with increasing skepticism from news consumers.
The studies detailing the American public’s distrust of the media — and of journalists — are too numerous to count. But instead of heeding that warning, many traditional news entities bend to pressing market forces. With each passing year, they blend in more and more with the noisy din of partisan talk shows, celebrity infotainment and, more recently, the Wild West of the blogosphere.
The Internet and the arrival of cable television have combined to make America and Western Civilization cultures of choice. This holds true for news as well. In the absence of a press that consumers can trust, readers and viewers are taking advantage of new media outlets to customize their own version of the “news.” Partisan news organs, blogs and talk radio all enable consumers to hear or read only viewpoints with which they agree.
Yet, if you clear away the “news” outlets that are proliferated with opinion and entertainment programming, there are plenty of ethical, fair journalists out there reporting news the American public can trust.
Ethical journalism is not dead. It just requires one to know where to look — whether it’s on the Internet, the newsstand or the airwaves. A map to help media consumers find that place of trust would also be helpful.
As the Society of Professional Journalists celebrates Ethics Week this week, we offer that map to help consumers find the news they can trust. And, as always, we offer this code of ethics to help journalists guide their actions.
Our volunteer membership organization is the most broad-based media association in the world, with more than 9,000 journalists, journalism educators and students. The SPJ ethics code, a voluntary set of values for journalists to follow, is the gold standard for the practice of ethical journalism in the industry. And it will help any citizen decide if his or her news outlet is practicing ethical journalism.
The first sentence of the SPJ ethics code sounds the call quite well: “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”
Taken on their face, the four major points of the Ethics Code are sound advice for journalists and a good yardstick for the public to use in sizing up the reporting and conduct of journalists and media organizations:
• Seek Truth and Report It
• Minimize Harm
• Act Independently
• Be Accountable
It is possible in this new culture of choice to find journalism that is relevant, serves the greater good and is executed with clarity and ethical provenance absent of partisanship or agendas other than the interest of the public. It will come in all manner of voices and formats. On behalf of journalists everywhere, we ask America to keep looking.